Monday, May 28, 2012

The Disciples also Preached Repentance, Mark 6:12 compared to Luke 9:2 and 6.

When Jesus sent out the Twelve in pairs to preach ahead of him, Mark reports that He gave them these instructions:

He commanded them that they should take nothing for their journey, except a staff only: no bread, no wallet, no money in their purse, 9 but to wear sandals, and not put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter into a house, stay there until you depart from there. 11 Whoever will not receive you nor hear you, as you depart from there, shake off the dust that is under your feet for a testimony against them. Assuredly, I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!”

Mark 6:8-11 (WEB).

Luke’s account of the same instructions on the same occasion adds only that Jesus “sent them out to preach the Kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.” Luke 6:2.

As a result of these instructions, Mark records that “They went out and preached that people should repent (metanoōsin).” Mark 6:12. Luke records that, as a result of Jesus’ instructions, the Disciples “departed, and went throughout the villages, preaching the Good News, and healing everywhere.” Thus, the Gospel (the Good News), the Kingdom of God, and repentance were all associated with each other in the Disciples’ preaching, just as they were in Jesus’ teaching (as set forth in the last posting). The Good News was still that the Kingdom of God had come near, and that the people needed to repent, in the strong sense of changing their behavior to conform to the Kingdom.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Repentance in Jesus’ Early Message, Matthew 4:17-22 and Mark 1:14-20

It will be recalled from an earlier posting that John the Baptist preached a repentance that was directly tied to the coming of the Kingdom and that demanded action, not just assent. Starting with his baptism, Jesus preached a similar repentance:

17 From that time, Jesus began to preach, and to say, “Repent [metanoiete]! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” 18 Walking by the sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers: Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers for men.” 20 They immediately left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them. 22 They immediately left the boat and their father, and followed him.

Matthew 4:17-22 (WEB).

Jesus declared to His hearers that the Kingdom of Heaven had approached them—the Greek here translated “is at hand” is really a single word, the verb eggizō (to approach, draw near, impend)in the aorist tense, a tense which ordinarily refers to completed past action. Jesus was not saying the Kingdom would soon come, in the future. His choice of tense declared the Kingdom had already drawn near to his hearers. The obvious interpretation of this is that Jesus brought the Kingdom with him, so that it drew near when they heard his words. Because the Kingdom was standing right next to them, he commanded his hearers to “repent!” Here, he used the stronger verb for repent, metanoeō, a verb which also carries an implication of actions corresponding to a changed course, as I have previously shown.

However, the context in Matthew 4 does not stop there. While preaching this message, Jesus starts to call disciples individually. He calls Simon Peter and Andrew to follow him, and they demonstrate their repentance by immediately leaving their own business and following Jesus. He then sees James and John, and they immediately left their boat and their father and followed him. When the Kingdom stood next to them, and called, they followed.

Mark gives a similar account of Jesus message, but adds a few words that clarify Jesus’ point that the time had arrived:

14 Now after John was taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand! Repent, and believe in the Good News.” 16 Passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you into fishers for men.” 18 Immediately they left their nets, and followed him. 19 Going on a little further from there, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother, who were also in the boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them, and they left their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired servants, and went after him.

Mark 1:14-22 (WEB).

Jesus came preaching the “good news” (euaggelion, also translated “Gospel”) of the Kingdom of God. He said that this good news was that his hearers did not have to wait any longer for the Kingdom, because the time was filled full (peplērōtai), completed, and the Kingdom of God had already approached them (again using the aorist of eggizō). Their commanded response to the near approach of the Kingdom was this: repent (again, metanoiete) and believe the good news. Jesus does not say their response to the Kingdom should be to repent by believing the good news. Jesus does not here teach that repentance consists of changing one’s mind about dogma, and is complete when the appropriate statement of faith is made. Instead, the two are presented separately—because the Kingdom has come near, we should both change our behavior (repent) and believe that the Kingdom is with us in Jesus.

Again, as in Matthew, the proclamation of the Gospel of the Kingdom, with its call to repent, leads to the calling of the first disciples, who willingly follow Jesus.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Judas Iscariot: Remorse too Late in Matthew 27:3-5

The distinction between remorse and true repentance—in both the Greek and the English—is illustrated by the actions of Judas Iscariot. It will be recalled that Judas, a disciple of Jesus and the treasurer of Jesus’ band of disciples, had come to be in the habit of embezzling from the ministry’s money bag. (John 12:6) When a woman came and anointed Jesus with a costly perfume, instead of selling it and giving the money to the disciples (thus allowing him to steal some of it), and Jesus commended her instead of rebuking her as Judas expected, Judas became disillusioned with Jesus, went to the Jewish authorities and arranged to betray Jesus to them for 30 pieces of silver. (Matt. 26:6-15) However, Judas appears to have done this under the unrealistic expectation that the authorities would punish Jesus, but let him live. Of course, as we now know, this was never the Jewish authorities’ plan. (See, John 11:45-53) They tried Jesus summarily, found him worthy of death, and hastily obtained the permission of the Roman governor to crucify him. (Matt. 26:57-67 & 27:11-26)

It is between the trial of Jesus before the Jewish Sanhedrin and his trial before the Roman governor that Judas’ remorse enters the record:

3 Then Judas, who betrayed him, when he saw that Jesus was condemned, felt remorse [metamelētheis], and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.” But they said, “What is that to us? You see to it.” 5 He threw down the pieces of silver in the sanctuary, and departed. He went away and hanged himself.

(Matthew 27:3-5 (WEB), bracketed Greek transliteration added)

Judas felt true remorse. The English says this, in every translation I know of, and so does the Greek, using the weaker verb for a change of mind or feelings, metamelomai, as explained in the previous post “Repentance: Definition of Terms.” Judas was truly sorry that his actions had bad consequences. He had obviously not intended his deal with the authorities to lead to Jesus’ death. So, when it appeared that Jesus was going to die, he went back to the authorities to try to reverse the bargain. He said he had betrayed innocent blood—which was true enough, but was confessed to the wrong person. He tried to give back the 30 pieces of silver. Of course, the authorities, who actually wanted Jesus dead, would have none of it. Judas’ remorse over getting caught came too late. Jesus had to die.

Judas’ remorse also had the wrong effect on Judas. He had been led by his greed to steal from the bag. He had then been angered when denied another opportunity to steal, and had been led by his greed and anger to sell Jesus. If he had felt remorse at any time before he betrayed Jesus, and had allowed that remorse to become true repentance, turning back to the Jesus he had rejected to serve his own greed, he could have been restored. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, restoration would likely have become possible again, had Judas waited for it. Instead, however, Judas first tried to fix the consequences of his sin—without returning to the Savior and obeying Him. When he saw that his own efforts to rectify the consequences of his sin had failed, he hanged himself.

“For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation, which brings no regret. But the sorrow of the world works death.” (2 Cor. 7:10)

Monday, May 14, 2012

Unrepentance and the judgment spoken against Chorazin and Bethsaida in Matthew 11:20-22

When Jesus spoke judgment against the towns of Chorazin and Bethsaida in Galilee in Matthew 11:20-22, he may have come as close as the New Testament ever comes to using the verb metanoeō to mean a mere change of belief with no corresponding actions. Matthew 11:20-22(WEB) reads:

20 Then he began to denounce the cities in which most of his mighty works had been done, because they didn’t repent. 21 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.”

The words of these verses on their face associate repentance with two conventional symbolic actions that openly demonstrated repentance—wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes. However, because these acts are symbolic, if left by themselves, they might signify merely a showing of remorse, not a change of life course.

The context clarifies this issue. In the immediately preceding portion of the chapter, Jesus had identified John the Baptist as the greatest of the previous prophets—one who was a prophet and more than a prophet, the prophesied return of Elijah, the one who prepared the way before Jesus. Matt. 11:9-11, 14. It will be recalled from an earlier post that John baptized the people as a sign of their repentance, and that the repentance John preached was all about a changed way of life. In this context, Jesus also states enigmatically that “he who is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than” John (v. 11b), the apparent explanation being that the days of John only initiated the advance of the kingdom of Heaven, but did not see that kingdom come; from his days forward there has been a struggle for the kingdom. (v. 12). Recall, also, my previous observation that a “kingdom” is a realm in which a king is obeyed, so in connecting both John’s ministry and the warfare of his contemporary situation to the struggle for the kingdom of Heaven, Jesus clearly implies that what both he and John had been doing had a behavioral component—it was a struggle for submission to the King of Heaven. Although there are several competing readings of verse 12 reflected in the various English translations—some emphasizing a personal struggle to come into submission, and others a struggle to bring others into submission—all of them involve a struggle (it is inescapable from the language used).

Jesus then reproves the crowd that followed him for their refusal to believe either John or himself, preferring instead to believe that their own way of life was acceptable and that John and Jesus were defective because they behaved differently:

“But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces, who call to their companions 17 and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you didn’t dance. We mourned for you, and you didn’t lament.’ 18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”

It is immediately after this reproof that Jesus contrasts the Jewish cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida to the Gentile cities of Tyre and Sidon, saying that, whereas Chorazin and Bethsaida rejected his words as those of a friend of “sinners,” if he had been sent to Tyre and Sidon they would have repented! In context, going back to the previous discussion of John and the Kingdom of Heaven, the “repentance” here in view must be viewed as the same repentance preached by John, and by Jesus—a change of life toward submission to the King. This is further emphasized by Jesus’ next contrast—between Capernaum and Sodom:

You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades. For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, on the day of judgment, than for you.”

Clearly, Sodom was judged because of the behavior of her people. God told Abraham that He would destroy Sodom because the “sin” that they had “done” cried out to Him. Genesis 19:20-21. In discussing the rescue of Lot from Sodom, Peter clarifies that God made Sodom an example of the end of those who live in an ungodly way, and further that what distressed righteous Lot about them was their filthy and lawless deeds. 2 Peter 2:6-8. Jude identifies the sin for which Sodom was destroyed as sexual immorality and perversion, Jude 1:7, as the dialogue in Genesis 1:1-13 also suggests.

Yet Jesus contrasts Capernaum with Sodom—saying that, if He had been sent to Sodom and done His miracles there, Sodom would still exist, obviously because she would have changed the wicked behavior that cried out to God. Capernaum, by contrast, had rejected His words. This certainly does imply that, if Capernaum had accepted Jesus’ words, its people would have changed their behavior.


Note that I've made a major revision to my web page "Notes on the King of Babylon, the Peace of Jerusalem, and the Restoration of Egypt and Assyria," including the addition of extensive sections of related web resources and academic citations.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Repentance of the Ninevites and Unrepentance of Israel in Matthew 12:41

My plan for the next few months is to write a series of (generally) short pieces on each of the instances in which the words “repent,” “repentance,” or their variants are used in the New Testament, showing the behavioral contents of these words. I will start with instances in Matthew, taking one passage per entry, not necessarily in the order they appear in Matthew. I will then move on to Mark, and so forth throughout the New Testament.

In this entry, I will consider Matthew 12:41

The men of Nineveh will stand up in the judgment with this generation, and will condemn it, for they repented (metenoēsan) at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, someone greater than Jonah is here.

In this verse, the word “repented” is an instance of the stronger verb for the concept, metanoeō, which implies a major change in behavior, as discussed in a previous posting. Yet no specific behavioral change on the part of the Ninevites is mentioned in this verse or its immediate context. However, Jesus’ reference to the Ninevites’ repentance is associated with a specific historical event, recorded in the book of the prophet Jonah, which was familiar to his hearers. The book of Jonah certainly records a major change in the Ninevites’ behavior when they heard the prophet’s prediction of their destruction:

5 The people of Nineveh believed God; and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from their greatest even to their least. 6 The news reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and took off his royal robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. 7 He made a proclamation and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, “Let neither man nor animal, herd nor flock, taste anything; let them not feed, nor drink water; 8 but let them be covered with sackcloth, both man and animal, and let them cry mightily to God. Yes, let them turn everyone from his evil way, and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows whether God will not turn and relent, and turn away from his fierce anger, so that we might not perish?” 10 God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way. God relented of the disaster which he said he would do to them, and he didn’t do it.

Jonah 3:5-10 (WEB).

The repentance recorded by Jonah was so complete that God delayed by over a hundred years the announced destruction of Nineveh! And it involved more than a ritual show of humility before God (fasting, sackcloth and ashes), as important as that was. It required the Ninevites to turn from their evil ways, and from the violence that was in their hands.

In its context in Matthew, the verse contrasts the Ninevites’ repentance with the unrepentance of the scribes and Pharisees who came to challenge Jesus. The scribes and Pharisees had asked Jesus for a sign that would demonstrate his authority. (Matt. 12:38). Jesus’ answer was that they would be given no sign except the sign of the prophet Jonah, who was three days and three nights in the belly of a fish. In the same way, Jesus said, he would be three days and nights in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:39-40)—predicting his death and resurrection.

Matthew 12:41 appears at this point in the context. Jesus tells the scribes and Pharisees that the men of violent, pagan Nineveh will be able to accuse the religious leaders of Israel in the day of judgment, because when Jonah preached to them they repented, sought the true God, and put the evil deeds and violence out of their hands. By contrast, when the scribes and Pharisees heard the preaching of Jesus—one greater than Jonah—they would not listen.